Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Fatal reading of history

In September last year, President Duterte spewed one of his blunt tirades against the United States for the “extrajudicial killings” it committed in Jolo in March 1906. A thousand Tausug villagers including women and children died in the bloodiest American assault ever on Philippine soil, in what has since gone down in history as the Bud Dajo Massacre.

Mr. Duterte contextualized his scathing diatribe as a counter-response to US criticism on the killing spree of his war on drugs. It was like he was saying, “Don’t throw stones at your neighbor when your house is made of glass.” But whose house is truly made of glass?


Moro Province governor Leonard Wood justified the massacre as a counterinsurgency action. The main problem then was the imposition of a poll tax system, the cedula. Not only in 1906 but also in 30 years of American rule thereafter, the cedula remained unpopular among the Tausug who perceived it as a form of tribute to the Manila government.

Where does that Tausug hubris come from, if hubris it truly was? Here is where Manila has always failed the Moro perspectives. Sulu was once one of the paramount trading powers in eastern Southeast Asia in the 17th and 18th centuries, when Manila was a backwater.


Designed as counterinsurgency, all past military solutions against the Moro rebellion turned out to be public relations disasters. They register only in the Christian-dominated northern Mindanao where anti-Moro sentiments remain strong till today. Elsewhere in Mindanao, there is a refusal to reminisce past bloody encounters, even among non-Moro veterans. War has no victors.

Notice the consistency of Manila’s responses and the equal regularity of its failures. The pattern of using the military solution began under Spain, was retained by the United States, sustained—through a worsening myopia—by successive Philippine governments.

In the Malisbong Massacre in the coastal village of Palembang, just two years after Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972, some 1,500 Moro men were massacred by the military inside the Taqbil mosque. Three thousand women were detained, some of them raped, 300 of their houses razed.

In the Ilaga vs. Blackshirts-Barracuda wars that followed, Marcos’ constabulary supported the non-Moro Ilaga vigilantes with arms and ammunition. If it had achieved its purpose, there would have been no Moro Islamic Liberation Front today.

Joseph Estrada represented the worst. Capturing the MILF’s Camp Abubakar, Estrada ordered a bacchanalia. He had truckloads of cold beer brought inside the camp for a drinking extravaganza, then brought lechon and ate pork inside a mosque. We all know what dessert Estrada got in his flawed political career — not the end of the Moro problem but his.

The reliability is remarkable: the military solution for Mindanao has always failed. It has not worked and never will. Military assaults do not address poverty and the disenfranchisement of the Moro masses from the traditional politics that has bred dynasties enriching themselves in office.

The issue is never about religion but disempowerment. We do not remember the past: Moro men were allowed to vote only in 1950. Our non-Moro ancestors, enjoying the perks of the cultural majority, which the minority are expected to assimilate into, had been voting for previous decades.


Let’s be clear — no doubt Dawlah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf are terrorists. But when a Maute sister was arrested not in martial-law Mindanao but in Iloilo City, one begins to wonder if martial law is truly needed only to kill an idea. One of the foremost experts on the Moro rebellion, Fr. Eliseo Mercado, OMI, has confirmed that the Islamic State is merely an idea. Ergo, if we kill all in the Maute group, will the idea be killed as well?

Pantaleon Alvarez, the most perverse of all Mr. Duterte’s lieutenants, proposes martial law until 2022. A pity the House Speaker from Mindanao is rudely ignorant of his own land’s history.

Archaically colonial, martial law is not an answer to the Moro problem. I can bet my life on it — it will not bring peace to Mindanao.

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TAGS: Antonio Montalvan II, Bud Dajo Massacre, Cedula, Kris-Crossing Mindanao, leonard wood, Marawi siege, Mindanao martial law, Moro history, Pantaleon Alvarez, Philippine history, poll tax system, Rodrigo Duterte
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